23 October, 2007

JESS FRANCO'S CUBIST DE SADE

Cubism: n. An early 20th century school of painting and sculpture tending through geometrical reduction of natural forms to establish independence of all imitative intention. [THE AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE]

I have about 20 dictionaries in various languages on hand at any time and that was the nearest. So I grabbed it and got the above paperback dictionary defintion of CUBISM, one of my favorite styles of painting, sculpture and architecture. Maybe that's why I've always had a special appreciation for the films of Fritz Lang, Edgar G. Ulmer and Jess Franco. Their films almost always have a cubist infrastructure. I've been discussing Franco's Sade adaptations and his much criticized use of the telezoom in previous blogs, but allow me to submit for your approval a brief examination the way cubism has influenced his style . Or at least in the period from 1970 to the early 1980's, wherein he discovered the architectural structures of Ricardo Bofill [SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY; THE PERVERSE COUNTESS: EUGENIE, UNA HISTORIA DE UNA PERVERSION] and purified his earlier Expressionism (see GRITOS EN LA NOCHE) into a kind of personal rough-hewn cubism. Also see Godard's LE MEPRIS, featuring Lang himself, as an extended excursion into cine-cubism. But Franco spent more than a decade delivering cubist canvases on film.

A good example of this is the above image from PLAISIR A TROIS [can you name the actors?], which I think is my second favorite Franco Sade adaptation. The action and actors are always crowded into a tightly formed triangulation within the box of the frame: the mental institution, the villa, the basement of horrors and even the garden seen above, although an exterior, is a trap. Everything in Sade is a kind of trap, especially Language, and Jess Franco's language is the cinema and in this film he reaches a new level of visual sophistication in composing an image, or series of images, of the Sadean trap. There are two separate plots summed up in this image, two of the characters are plotting the demise of the other while a third assumes a solution to the mystery. Only one of the three assumptions is correct. But which one?

This is actually the best quality image I have ever seen from this very painterly film, my own VSOM antique is poor quality at best. I have since been able to speak with the director, author and a a lead actor in the film and have learned a lot about its making. But it's the finished product which I find fascinating, cubism in motion. Franco would develop his cine-cubism throughout the 1970s and 80s until the point of GEMIDOS DE PLACER (1982) a remake of this film, in which dialogue and plot exposition are almost entirely dispensed with in favor of extended plan sequences/pure cinema.

Does that make is Art? Perhaps not. But it's something to consider the next time you see a Jess Franco film.

(C) Robert Monell, 2007



8 comments:

Douglas Alan Waltz said...

I like the comparison to Cubism in Franco's work. It is, indeed, true and a marvelous way to get the uninitiated to appreciate Franco on more than a surface level.

Robert Monell said...

My interest in painting predates my interest in Jess Franco and I was suprised to learn as I saw more of his films how many historical styles he went through, from Expressionism (early films) to Cubism to Surrealism. His recent film KILLER BARBIES VS DRACULA looks like a classic Disney feature cartoon in terms of color and composition and Franco told me he admires those old cartoons.

scott said...

well, alice arno and the forever underrated Tania Busselier. Not sure about the dude..

Robert Monell said...

He's in several JF movies of that period.

Douglas A. Waltz said...

I would love to see a Jess Franco Disney Cartoon. Can you imagine the horror of people watching it unfamiliar with his work? Priceless!

David Zuzelo said...

I think his name is Alfred Baillou. Odd looking chap.

Robert Monell said...

Doug: actually, KILLER BARBIES VS DRACULA is a kind of Jess Franco Disney live action feature, complete with Disney characters in the background!

Robert Monell said...

That's correct, David. He is indeed an odd looking fellow. I assume he has left the building.